Ok, here goes. This was the worst hunting trip I have EVER been on, despite the fact it my first successful big game hunt, and it turns out to be some of my most cherished memories. So I never hunted big game as a kid. My dad would work in the villages for his engineering work, and would infrequently bring home a caribou. He had been through typical Alaska hunting trips throughout his life, and being smart, would only throw it in if he was already going to be stuck in the bush anyway. I can’t say I blame him. So aside from bird hunting, which I thought was cool, I never really got out and hunted even though I love moose and caribou meat. So when I turn 18, I’m itchin to get out and get one and beg dad to make it happen. We went out for 3 days by floatplane, with my uncle who lives in Manley Hot Springs. 4 days of sitting on a beaver dam in the middle of some **** swamp without a book to read, and spending the other parts of the time in a cabin with two middle aged guys who seriously napped ANY time we weren’t out hunting. BORING. The following two years I got majorly skunked in two walk in hunts I planned myself with my brother and then with my best friend. My best friend Jeremiah and I came super close to getting one last year, but thanks to some ridiculous fluke (probably global warming) got snowed out at the last minute. So we started planning super far ahead this year and had a decent plan. Jeremiah works at Underground Performance and Offroad and has a Land Cruiser on 44’s and a trailer that could haul it on the highway. I would borrow my father in-laws F-250 with a 460 to haul it up, and we were surprised to find two 4-wheelers to borrow. We would sleep in the Land Cruiser as base camp and get out on the 4 wheelers for the day time. So the awesome disaster begins on Thursday night, Labor Day weekend 2009. All gear and whatnot is stashed, organized and ready to go at Jeremiah’s house ahead of time. The truck is in town, the trailer is picked up, we’re already 3 hours or so behind schedule (trying to get the right hitch for the trailer) and the lights don’t match up. We race to NAPA, which is already closed, and thankfully, the guy who knows Jeremiah as a business customer, lets us in to by the right adapter which still didn’t end up working right. After a few hours (seemed like) of screwing with the lights, we leave anyway. The lights were on, but would turn off with the brake lights. We left Anchorage at 12:30 AM with Glennallen as our goal. After dodging 5 moose, we finally got to Kenny Lake about 5:00 AM when my heartbeat was finally starting to slow down. Jeremiah’s great uncle had told us to use his house as a stopping point if we were tired and we were borrowing one of the 4 wheelers from him. No mansion could ever look as welcoming as that house did at 5:00 in the morning. We slept a few hours and got up to pack the 4 wheeler up and get moving. Friday: We got to the McLaren River area around 5:00 PM due to a late start and treating the brakes on the truck carefully. What an exciting feeling to be there. Camp gets packed in the Land Cruiser and he drives that while I follow on a 4 wheeler. Jeremiah knew the trail pretty well and led for about an hour (the perfect amount of time to get really far away from everything) when we found the ONE thin spot of muskeg. Buried, instantly… up to the passenger window, with no trees around to winch to. The Land Cruiser was tilting so far, it couldn’t be slept in. After 3 hours of trying to pull it out with the quad-runners, we took as much as we could and rode twosies (kinda embarrassing) back to the truck at the parking lot. I’ve slept in the back of pickups before, and I’ve heard Jeremiah’s snoring before but this really sucked. We get up and try again to get the cruiser out, with help from Allen at the McLaren Lodge (freaking cool guy, send him your business) and just salvage more gear. By this time Jeremiah’s uncle, aunt and great uncle had showed up with their RV and other gear. They were a major boost, and super helpful. Nice hot meals, cooked by a woman, can truly comfort a soaking wet, tired hunter. Saturday: We get out and do a lot of spotting in the morning with Jeremiah’s relatives, who were pro-hunter types. Although we didn’t get close enough to anything but cows, it was a big encouragement. Later on it gets really bad. Jeremiah’s uncle always sends out several invitations to hunting camp, expecting 5% to actually show up. This year he had something like an 85% return rate. Our party of four becomes eleven, including two women who tried hard, but just could not hang on their 4 wheelers. Annoyed as we were with this, Jeremiah decides to break a little trail of his own to get away from the big group, unfortunately through the thickest alders ever. We meet up at the rendezvous point, when Jeremiah looks back at his rear rack, which held a .30-06 this morning, but was now strangely empty. “Well guys, I’m gonna go look for my rifle” he says. I felt so bad for him. An hour of the whole group looking didn’t turn up anything. In the later afternoon we decided to go off by ourselves rather than with the giant group. I contributed to the common good by rolling the 4 wheeler I had borrowed…the 4 wheeler that was for sale when I borrowed it…the 4 wheeler I had just bought...S***. We were both looking for a tall enough tree to hang ourselves from at this time. Limping back to camp to find hot stew, I felt like some sort of POW returning to America. The other good news was we contacted another friend with a wheeling truck to come pull us out on Sunday, which meant no more screwing around with the swamped truck. Sunday; We woke up depressed. We didn’t even feel like hunting. The great-uncle, to save his back was going to do a little highway cruising with the grandkids. We opted to go with him and listen to old time stories and relax. Driving 20 miles away from camp, on the Denali Highway, we’re eating a good lunch when this old timer pulls out his stashed binoculars and says, “You know, we’ve seen some pretty big moose down in this area here sometimes.” Sure enough, this old master spots three moose, two of them bulls, in about 30 seconds. Jeremiah and I raced back to camp to get the 4 wheeler and drove like madmen to get back to the same spot, where the bulls had, of course, disappeared. We got into the brush and traveled about 4 miles downhill toward the lake we saw the bulls at. We find one! A spike-fork about 500 yards from us, but across a lake. We travel one at a time; one person drives while one person glasses, to make sure he doesn’t spook. This beautiful spike couldn’t care less that we were there as we made steady progress around the lake toward him. When Jeremiah dropped out of sight at the turning point of the lake, I hear an ominous SPLASH. Uh-oh. Sure enough, there was a little stream, just the height of the airboot on an old quad-runner. The airboot instantly filled up with water, and you can never really get all that water out of the system for a few hours. While this moose stared at us from about 200 yards (******* was probably laughing at us), we limped back up the hill, towing his rig most of the 4 miles back to the highway, intermittently overheating. We were even more miserable than before. We got back to camp and went to sleep, eager to just get back to Anchorage tomorrow. Monday dawns beautiful and we all have a big breakfast at the lodge. Jeremiah gets his truck pulled out by his buddy, and we’re on the Denali, heading back toward Paxson. Everything had been loaded back onto the trailer and tied down securely. Jeremiah’s great-uncle is caravanning with us, and slowly edges over to the same pullout as yesterday. Lunch was brought out and I was enjoying the sun, when his great uncle once again raises his ever present binoculars. Everyone goes silent for about a minute while he scans the area. “I think I see about SEVEN down there.” WHAT?!? Sure enough, there are seven moose, VERY close to the road. We probably set a record for fastest unpacking of stowed gear, trying to get our stuff back out. After the mad dash out of the truck and down the same hill, sure enough, we run into a nice spike that seemed to like the noise of 4 wheelers. He let us roll right up to him. I tried to keep my nerves calm, but I couldn’t help from shaking. I waited for the perfect broadside shot, took a deep breath, and slowly squeezed the trigger. Nothing happens. **** safety is on. Re-setting, I take the shot. The little bull goes down after four steps, perfect lung shot. The celebration was cut short, since I had to be at work in 16 hours. We left Paxson probably at 5:00 PM, driving back again in the dark. I originally planned to stash the meat in my in-laws shed, who told my over the phone, they didn’t think they had enough room. I think they didn’t expect me to get one. Great. Improvising, I knew my dad had room in his shed but was not expecting us. I cringed as I knocked on his door at 2:00 in the morning. He stumbles out, cursing his dog, who was trying to wake the whole neighborhood up. It was all worth it to see him get it and smile all of a sudden. “You got one!” So there you have it. That was simultaneously the worst hunting trip I’ve ever been on, and yet my crowning moment. Next year, I think I’ll just buy moose meat. Who am I kidding, I’m hooked now, and I know it. Maybe Jeremiah and I will try a guided float trip instead.